BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Saturday afternoon more than 100 people gathered at the library to celebrate Diwali, an Indian festival that celebrates the victory of good vs. evil and coincides with the Hindu New Year. More people attended than anyone expected and, from the smiles and laughter, the entire Diwali celebration was a big hit.
Saturday's event was arranged by the Berkeley Heights Cultural Committee, a group which was organized to allow residents to learn about and embrace the many different cultures represented by township residents and those in neighboring towns. Previously the committee held a Martin Luther King Jr.'s event and a Chinese New Year's celebration.
On Saturday, Oct.15, as many as three generations of some families attended the festival of lights. The actual festival this year occurs on Oct. 30 and will be celebrated that day around the world.
Youngsters who came to Saturday's event found a myriad of craft projects. A popular one was to decorate a design using glue and various colors of sand. Others chose to use crayons to color in the Hindu word "Aum," which means peace, or to color an image of Diya, which we call an oil lamp, and its flame, and then use pretend jewels to decorate the image.
In the lower level meeting room, there were two buffet tables set up with all sorts of Indian food and on a third wall, there was an altar surrounded by sparkling lights. On the altar were images of various Hindu gods, Diya, and traditional offerings for the gods.
While women sang traditional prayers for the ceremony, barefooted women, some with young children, took a Diya on a decorated plate and moved it in a circular motion in front of the altar. They handed the Diya to another pair of women who did the same, then passed the Diya on to the next pair in line. This continued for quite a while until the singing came to a close. Then it was time for the children to perform. Some played the piano, others sang while playing the piano, others simply sang and others danced. While all these things were going on, people walked back and forth to the buffet tables, picking up food to enjoy with the music.
Two Berkeley Heights restaurants, Neelam Indian Restaurant and East, donated much of the food. Other foods came from participants in the festival.